Is Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano Baltimore City’s Lord Ashcroft?

The scandal-ridden director of Baltimore's floundering housing agency remains the city's highest-paid public official. What dirt does Paul Graziano have on city leaders that's let him keep his job for 15 failed years?

November 2. 2015

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Is Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano Baltimore City’s Lord Ashcroft?

The scandal-ridden director of Baltimore's floundering housing agency remains the city's highest-paid public official. What dirt does Paul Graziano have on city leaders that's let him keep his job for 15 failed years?

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) finds itself once again in a bit of hot water after 11 women signed on to a federal lawsuit alleging that Housing Authority workers demanded sex for repairs in public housing. Maryland Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has called for an investigation into its own workers who may have been involved, and subsequently so has the Housing Authority itself. However, according to some reports, the HABC investigation comes a bit late, as

“In the middle of the harassment [by HABC workers], [a] 24-year-old mother went to work at HABC. She eventually told her boss, Deputy Executive Director Anthony Scott, about Clinton (aka Charles) Coleman’s alleged sexual demands. In May, according to her affidavit, she told Scott about “Coleman’s repeated sexual harassment of me and about the fact that I do not have any heat as a result.” Next, she says, an audit investigator, Reggie Scriber, called and eventually “told me that he could not guarantee my safety if I continued with my complaint.” So far, 11 women have sworn affidavits against Coleman, Doug Hussy, and Michael Robertson, saying they routinely pressured them for sex, assaulted them, and refused to do needed repairs if they did not give in to their sexual demands. The women say they tried to get supervisors to intervene, to no avail. Two men—union investigators—say they found other female residents who tell similar stories, and that they were also told by HABC management to not investigate and not put anything they found in writing. “

One of the city employees who actually attempted to investigate these complaints lost his job for the effort.

In the wake of these allegations, Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano remains in his position as head of HABC. To Baltimore insiders, this is no surprise. Commissioner Graziano has been head of HABC for 15 years. He’s Baltimore City’s highest-paid city official, raking in over $200,000 annually. And it’s hard to say that he’s not at fault for this current scandal: last year, he eliminated the position of Inspector General within HABC, the office responsible for investigating and rooting out corruption in city housing. But Graziano isn’t worried. This is the man whose administration has, in coordination with Mayor Rawlings-Blake, refused to pay out court-mandated judgments to the families that he allowed to live in lead-painted homes. He’s weathered the storms of federal inquiries about his mismanagement of tens of millions of dollars of federal housing funds, questionable ties to the realtors and landlords he’s supposed to regulate, privatization of public housing, an arrest over a drunken anti-gay tirade, and dozens of other scandals in his 15 years as Housing Commissioner.

Calls are currently coming in for his firing, from new anti-establishment City Council candidates trying to make their mark in the post-Uprising scene to old friends of his trying to get a little distance. Former Mayor Shiela Dixon, who is running again for the same seat after being ousted for stealing gift card donations intended for charity, has called for Graziano’s termination at a town hall meeting, but the citizens of Baltimore must remember that he was still Housing Commissioner under Dixon’s administration, during which time he promoted Dixon’s then-boyfriend to an important decision-making position. Of course, with his own girlfriend getting a job as a high-ranking official for EBDI, another major city housing project, we might look at the Dixon deal less as nepotism than as standard operation procedure for the Commissioner.

Commissioner Graziano is, of course, the story here. But maybe he shouldn’t be. Graziano is a symbol of the system of Baltimore politics, a system of nepotism and cronyism where the goal is not achievement but staying power. The Baltimore Sun covered his ups and downs in 2011 in a long-read article, years before the lead paint or sex-for-repairs scandals, and their article focuses on what Baltimore politics considers the most important element of his reign: that Graziano is “a survivor”. No matter that he’s a scumbag and he survives solely through his network of cronies, that’s not what’s important in Baltimore politics. What matters is the ability to weather the storm, and in that respect Commissioner Graziano is a pro.

It seems that Commissioner Graziano is to Baltimore Democrats as Lord Ashcroft is to British Tories: I’m not saying that Martin O’Malley ever stuck his penis in a dead pig’s mouth, but one has to wonder how Graziano managed to survive a series of pretty nasty scandals under O’Malley’s Mayoral tenure and, in the face of increased media reports and public pressure to oust him this time, how he got O’Malley’s protégé Mayor Rawlings-Blake to defend him and declare she is “absolutely not” firing him. Sure, it could have something to do with the tens of thousands of dollars he has donated to the campaigns of Mayors O’Malley, Dixon, and Rawlings-Blake, but even for a major contributor, and even for Baltimore, such survival is abnormal, and one is brought to wonder what dirt Graziano has on the power players of the city.

 


 

Is Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano Baltimore City’s Lord Ashcroft? by Zachary Gallant is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

November 2. 2015